- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 24, 2004

NEW YORK — It’s impossible to prepare to accommodate a march with an estimated quarter of a million protesters in Central Park on Sunday, a city attorney said yesterday after a court hearing on the matter.

Attorney Jonathan Pines told reporters after the 2-hour hearing that the clock had expired on the Central Park rally.

“This is purely logistical,” Mr. Pines said outside the courthouse downtown. “The city has historically honored the rights of protesters. This is not about civil rights; this is too much, too late.”

Attorneys for United for Peace and Justice and the city met before State Supreme Court Justice Jacqueline Silbermann, who is considering whether the expected 250,000 people will be allowed to hold a post-march rally in the park.

The group and its adherents are planning to march against President Bush on the eve of the Republican National Convention, which begins Monday at Madison Square Garden.

United for Peace and Justice, whose permit was refused in April, last week sued the city in hopes of holding a rally at three locations in Central Park. The group wants to disperse the crowd of protesters to the Great Lawn, the East Meadow and the North Meadow sections of the park.

The judge said she hopes to hand down a ruling today.

The reality, though, is that “there will be hundreds of thousands of people marching past Madison Square Garden,” said Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the group with the Center for Constitutional Rights.

“The question is, ‘Where are they going to go?’”

The city argued that the demonstration would damage the lawn. A parks department employee testified that the department used “unwritten” criteria when considering permits to rally in the park.

When asked why all the conditions for a permit are not written as guidelines for applicants, Elizabeth Smith, who handles large permit requests for the department, simply said, “I don’t know.”

United for Peace and Justice has a permit to march from Seventh Avenue and 14th Street up to Madison Square Garden at 33rd Street.

During the hearing, protesters stood on Foley Square across from the courthouse and made noise that could be heard in the third-floor courtroom.

If the judge rules against the protesters, there will be no rally, said Leslie Cagan, national coordinator for United for Peace and Justice.

“We are marching past Madison Square Garden, as agreed to by the city,” Miss Cagan said. “We do not believe that this will disintegrate into chaos and violence. But we hope the city will be as peaceful as the protesters.”

The group filed its application in June 2003 for a permit to rally on the 55-acre Great Lawn from 1 to 6 p.m.

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